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What’s the Best Organic Coffee?
Complete Guide to Certification

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By Matt Woodburn-Simmonds

Drinking good coffee is the key to a happy life, right? But what if you want more than just good flavor, you also want good environmental practices and fair working conditions for the coffee farmers? If you want the best organic coffee beans?

Quite rightly, many coffee drinkers are prioritizing protecting the environment when choosing which coffee beans to buy. So, there are certain buzzwords that people look for – ‘Organic’ probably being the most famous. For many of us, it is a must-have seal of approval for any food and drink.

The organic seal is more than just marketing mumbo-jumbo. So, alongside our top organic coffee recommendations, here we will break down exactly what it means (and what it doesn’t):

As a former barista who’s spent years traveling and visiting coffee farms around the world, I’ve seen firsthand the restrictions and requirements placed on farmers to get that coveted USDA Organic label. So I’ll break down what organic farming does and doesn’t do with regard to flavor and the bigger impact. Then you can pick only the best of the best that not only tastes delicious but also protects Mother Earth.

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Gifts for Coffee Snobs in Search Box

The holidays are coming. Which means stressing over the perfect gift is here too.

But stress no more. We’ve put together a list of all the best coffee gifts to please even the most discerning of coffee lovers in your life.

Check out our guide if they’re on your ‘nice’ list. Or maybe be ‘naughty’ and buy something for yourself!

Best Overall

Three bags of Spirit Animal Coffees (Catuai, Bourbon, and IHCAFE-90)

Spirit Animal – Bourbon

Spirit Animal does one thing and does it really well: sell superb Honduran microlot coffees. Their coffee beans are all sourced from Rainforest Alliance and Organic Certified coffee farms. They are then roasted at source in Honduras to maximize the income directly to the farmers.

And they excel where it matters most – flavor.

We adore their full range of organic coffees but the Bourbon comes out on top (for us, at least!)

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10 Best Organic Coffees

If you’re looking to make the switch to organic, only the best organic coffee beans will do. After all, putting the environment first shouldn’t mean compromising on flavor.

So, to help you choose, we’ve tasted a LOT of coffees from across the world to put together this barista-approved list of organic coffee recommendations. We recommend always starting with whole beans and grinding them yourself but I appreciate that’s not realistic for everyone so everything on this list is also available pre-ground.

With so many brewing methods out there, some of these beans are better suited to different styles. So we’ve also indicated if they’re best for espresso, drip, pour over, French press, etc. Let’s dive right into the good stuff:

Spirit Animal – Bourbon

Bag of Spirit Animal (Bourbon) organic coffee beans on table with a French press

What to Expect:

Source: Marcala, Honduras (Single-Origin)

Roast: Medium

Processing Method: Natural

Tasting Notes: Cacao, tropical fruits, white wine, hazelnuts

Best For: Pour Over (V60 or Chemex), French press

Important Notes: Single-origin Boubon cultivar yielded an incredible 89/100 cup score

Spirit Animal is relatively new to the scene but they’re doing very exciting things with Honduran micro-lot coffees. They focus on only the best 1% of Arabica organic coffee beans, sourced from their Rainforest Alliance Certified organic coffee farms. Doing so showcases the incredible flavors of Honduras’ coffee regions.

This outstanding coffee exclusively uses the Bourbon cultivar of Arabica coffee. The farmer, Yuliana Hernandez, demonstrates her passion, dedication, and love of her work – not just in the quality of coffee produced, but also in her sustainable farming practices and efforts to improve the local community.

When coffee makes its way from the farm to your cup, the place where the most value is added is in the hands of the roaster. So Spirit Animal roasts all their coffee at source so the money stays where it’s needed most – in Honduras where more than 50% of the population lives in poverty.

With a cup score of 89/100 from the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) this is the very best of organic coffee brewing; celebrating the flavors of hazelnuts, cacao, and tropical fruit, with a deep richness. For the best results, we recommend brewing in a Hario V60 or Chemex to pull out the delicate notes. But, for something a little different, we also love brewing this coffee for French press.

Volcanica Organic Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee

#1 Best Seller - Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee, Organic by Volcanica

What to Expect:

Source: Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia (Single-Origin)

Roast: Medium/Light

Processing Method: Washed

Tasting Notes: Lemon, blueberry, and blackberry with bright acidity

Best For: Pour Over

Important Notes: Organically grown and Fairtrade certified

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This offering from Volcanica comes from one of the most exciting coffee regions on the planet. As the birthplace of the Arabica coffee plant, Ethiopia grows a variety of heirloom coffee varietals that have been growing wild in the country for thousands of years.

If you’ve never tried Ethiopian coffee before, these coffee beans from Yirgacheffe will rock your next organic coffee fix thanks to the diversity of flavors.

Yirgacheffe is located in the south of Ethiopia. Coffees from here are famed for their intensely floral and fruity flavors with a bewitching complexity and almost wine-like feel on the palate. Once you’ve tasted coffee from here, you’ll never look back.

And Volcanica’s Yirgacheffe organic coffee certainly shows off those great flavors. Alongside a refreshing acidity, there are notes of lemon and berries with a floral aroma. The medium/light roasting allows you to fully experience the taste of this unique growing region. When I’m making Chemex, these beans are my go-to.

Equator Coffees – Sumatra Queen Ketiara

Bag of Sumatra Queen Ketiara coffee beans from Equator Coffees in front of Breville espresso machine

What to Expect:

Source: Takengon, Sumatra (Single-Origin)

Roast: Medium-Light

Processing Method: Wet-hulled (Giling Basah)

Tasting Notes: Tangerine, clove, chocolate, and tobacco

Best For: Espresso

Important Notes: Organic Certified and Fair Trade coffee exclusively from women-led farms in the Gayo Mountains. A premium is paid to support programs that benefit women

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Equator Coffees sources these coffee beans from Ketiara, a cooperative located in the Gayo Highlands of Sumatra. It is led by Rahmah, the incredible woman who founded the co-op in 2009 with only 38 members. Now, the Ketiara co-op has over 2,000 smallholder farmers, over 50% of which are women.

This particular coffee is bought exclusively from the women smallholders in the cooperative – giving it the special name, “Queen Ketiara”. A premium is paid for the “Queen” designation. But this extra money goes to projects that benefit women in the Gayo Highlands region.

Hailing from Indonesia, the Sumatran organic coffee beans are wet-hulled processed (known as Giling Basah) – a process unique to Indonesian coffee. The result of this process is a very distinctive coffee flavor profile that is fuller-bodied with intense earthy, woody, spicy notes. The acidity is also lowered giving a softer feel on the palate – it’s a coffee sensation like no other in the world. 

The Queen Ketiara organic coffee beans show off notes of chocolate, vanilla, orange, tobacco, and clove. With a full body and gentle acidity, the resulting brew is very punchy whilst still being light.

If you’re put off by the idea of ‘tobacco’ or ‘earthy’ flavors, please don’t be. My mum was the same until I used them to make her an espresso. She loved the light, unique flavors so much that I caught her trying to sneak the bag of beans home with her!

Lifeboost Organic – Dark Roast Coffee

Hand holding a bag of Lifeboost Organic dark roast coffee beans to the camera

What to Expect:

Source: Mt. Kilambé, Nicaragua (Single-Origin)

Roast: Dark

Processing Method: Washed

Tasting notes: Sweet fruit, gentle body, and creamy chocolate

Best For: French press or cold brew

Important notes: Low acidity, mold & mycotoxin-free coffee

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Lifeboost Coffee’s website is awash with customer testimonials waxing lyrical about their great-tasting coffee. Plus, there’s plenty of information about the health benefits and why theirs are the best organic coffee beans available.

Don’t let the slightly spammy feel put you off though because, once you sift through all that, you’ll discover a range of really high-quality low-acid organic coffee beans. They’re also tested by a third party to ensure they’re mold and mycotoxin-free.

The Lifeboost coffee range is all grown on a single farm in Nicaragua that is Certified Organic and shade-grown. So, if you’re looking for total peace of mind about how your coffee is grown then Lifeboost is a great option.

Whilst dark roasts aren’t usually my go-to as they can be a little too ‘roasty’ for me, I like this one as the reduced acidity makes it more balanced. The fruit notes have a sweet and tropical feeling that is typical of the best Nicaraguan coffees. This pairs perfectly with the lighter body and flavors of smooth chocolate and nuts on the finish.

If you prefer a gentler brew, this is an indulgent choice of beans for cold brew or French press. They stand up on their own or mixed with milk. Or, if dark roast isn’t your thing, they have a great selection of organic coffees to suit all tastes.

Java Planet – Colombian Organic Coffees

Bag of Java Planet - Colombian Organic Coffees

What to Expect:

Source: Colombia (Single-Origin)

Roast: Medium-Dark

Tasting Notes: Fruity, caramel, nuts with a smooth chocolate finish

Best For: Espresso

Important notes: USDA Organic certified, Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, and the lesser-known Bird-Friendly Certified – completely committed to sustainable practices

Java Planet organic coffee roasters put their commitment to the environment as a top priority. So, at the very least, all their coffees have the USDA Organic seal of approval.

Plus, the majority (like this Colombia Organic one) are also Rainforest Alliance and Smithsonian Bird-Friendly Certified. This last one is lesser-known but probably the best marker of ethically grown coffee. (Read all about the different labels/terms, here).

By working hard to achieve the standards set by these governing bodies, Java Planet successfully covers all its bases: They protect the environment, wildlife, and worker wages in their coffee supply chain.

This is a blend of beans from across Colombia. Due to the diverse topography of the country, the flavors can be equally diverse. Having been expertly blended and lower in acidity, you get bold fruity notes that taste sweet and rich. The fuller body makes it well-suited to espresso or even a regular drip coffee maker.

Out of the Grey – Peruvian Specialty Coffee

Two bags of Out of the Grey coffee - Peru HB SMBC La Florida & Yirgacheffe

What to Expect:

Source: La Florida, Peru (Single-Origin)

Roast: Medium-Dark

Processing Method: Washed

Tasting Notes: Almonds, dark chocolate, and molasses, with slightly floral notes, full-body, and a bright finish

Best For: French press or pour over

Important Notes: This Handcrafted Fair Trade coffee is Certified Bird-Friendly by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and Certified Organic

Lesser known in most coffee circles, Peruvian coffee is a bit of a hidden gem of quality in South America:

Of all the coffee in the world, most organic coffee is grown in Peru. So, the required standards and farming practices are well ingrained in their coffee-growing culture.  

For the best Peruvian organic coffee beans, look to specialty coffee producer, Out of the Grey who goes one step further with their Bird-Friendly Certified coffee. The Smithsonian Institute developed this certification as a combined commitment towards environmental protection and ethical labor practices.

Grown in the foothills of the Andes, between the cities of Chiclayo and Cajamarca in the north of Peru, this coffee is very similar in style to many great Colombian coffees. It has flavors of rich sweet fruit, molasses, and almonds with a touch of floral for good measure. The fresher acidity gives a more refreshing, crisp finish which we adore when for French press or pour over.

Kicking Horse Coffee – Kick Ass

Kicking Horse Coffee Selection - Kick Ass, Lucky Kim & Smart Ass

What to Expect:

Source: Indonesia & South America (Blend)

Roast: Dark

Tasting Notes: Big fruit, chocolate, molasses, and sweet smokiness

Best For: Espresso (including milky espresso drinks like latte or cappuccino)

Important notes: Both Fair Trade and USDA Organic certified, available as whole bean coffee or pre-ground

Kicking Horse Coffee is a bit of a cult sensation. And with good reason: 

They specialize in top-quality blends, using only the best Arabica organic coffee beans sourced from around the world. All of the beans used have received both Fair Trade and Organic Certifications. 

For their Kick Ass coffee, a blend of Indonesian and South American coffee beans has been used. The result is a full-throated coffee roar on the palate that will get you up and going, ready to kick ass for the day. 

By combining the woody, spicy tones of the Indonesian beans with the bold fruity sweetness of the South American ones, you get a really full palate of coffee flavors. Plus, there’s a hint of smoke from the darker roast.

If you like big, bold coffee and generally drink espresso or espresso-based drinks, this is a superb option. The pressure from espresso brewing draws out the complex flavors of sweet fruit, chocolate, tobacco, molasses, and smokiness, all finished with caramelized notes. If you prefer subtle, light flavors, this isn’t the one for you.

Death Wish – World’s Strongest Coffee

Bag of dark roast, whole bean coffee from Death Wish (the world's strongest coffee)

What to Expect:

Source: Blend

Roast: Dark

Tasting Notes: Cherries and chocolate, with a smoky rich finish

Best For: French press, AeroPress, or espresso

Important Notes: Blend of Robusta and Arabica coffee beans combine to make this punchy, highly caffeinated coffee that is both Fair Trade and Organically Certified

Blends containing Robusta aren’t something you often see recommended here at Home Coffee Expert. But, for the insanely popular, punchy Death Wish Coffee, it’s worth making an exception. Don’t get us wrong, we have nothing against Robusta coffee, it just rarely offers the same complexity as Arabica coffee beans. 

Marketed as The World’s Strongest Coffee, the Arabica/Robusta blend yields an intense cup of joe that will really hit you in all your senses.

Being Organic and Fair Trade certified, you can have the big hit you need from your morning brew and still feel good about how it was grown and purchased. The aim is to bring out the bold dark fruit flavors as well as the chocolate, nuts, and smoke that come with a darker roast.

If you’re a fan of really strong, bold cups of coffee, this is definitely one you need to try. By brewing in a French press or AeroPress you have control over the extraction making both a great way to taste the nuanced (but not subtle) flavors. Although we wouldn’t say no to a Death Wish espresso either.

If you’re worried that the big, bold flavors from the highly caffeinated organic coffee beans will be too much for you, Death Wish offers a no-questions-asked, money-back guarantee. So you’ve got nothing to lose. Plus, you can pick the best option for you from whole bean, ground, or coffee pods.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters – Holler Mountain

Holler Mountain 12oz bag of organic coffee beans from Stumptown Coffee Roasters

What to Expect:

Source: Blend from Latin America and East Africa

Roast: Medium

Tasting Notes: Citrus, caramel, berry jam

Best For: Versatile for everything from espresso to drip

Important Notes: One of the original blends that has been with Stumptown since they started

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Stumptown Coffee Roasters have been in the roasting game since 1999 and their Holler Mountain blend has been with them from the start. So they kinda know what they’re doing when it comes to this delicious organic coffee blend.

The combination of flavors from around the world results in a full-bodied cup of joe that is bursting with flavor. You get the chocolatey tones from Central and Southern American coffees alongside the brightness of East African coffees. And, by blending, they can ensure a consistent flavor profile year after year that’s unaffected by good or bad harvests.

Overall, you get a complex, creamy cup of coffee that works well with any brew method. That said, we love pulling espressos with Holler Mountain to pull out the citrus bursts alongside the creamy caramel and hazelnut notes.

Tiny Footprint – Signature Blend Light Roast

Tiny Footprint Light Roast Signature Blend on top of Sumatra coffee beans with cup of black coffee to the side

What to Expect:

Source: Blend

Roast: Light

Tasting Notes: Orange and lemon with a milk chocolate finish

Best For: Pour Over

Important Notes: Tiny Footprint is the world’s first carbon-negative coffee company, the paper bags are 100% compostable, plus they are USDA Organic Certified

What makes organic coffee even better for the environment? How about organic coffee beans that are also carbon-negative?

Tiny Footprint is the first company to produce carbon-negative coffee. They achieve this by donating proceeds from all sales to restore and protect the Mindo Cloud Forest in Ecuador.

For every pound of coffee sold, trees are planted that will remove 54lbs of CO2 from the atmosphere. Additionally, the trees provide a habitat for wildlife, increasing biodiversity in one of the world’s most important forests.

All that ecological goodness leaves a pretty good taste in your mouth. And, when you’re done, just remove the label and the paper coffee bags are 100% compostable too.

This blend utilizes coffee from all over the globe to give a rich and balanced cup of coffee. The light roast profile means that the bright citrus flavors of the beans are accentuated with mellow chocolate and nut notes on the finish, perfect for pour-overs. However, if you prefer your coffee a little more roasted, the signature blend also comes in medium, dark, and espresso roasts.

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Quick Comparison Table

Image Product Details
Spirit Animal, Bourbon
  • Medium roast
  • From Marcala, Honduras
  • Flavors of cacao, tropical fruits, white wine, hazelnuts
Volcanica, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
  • Medium/light roast
  • From Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia
  • Flavors of lemon, blueberry, blackberry
Equator Coffees, Sumatra Queen Ketiara
  • Medium/light roast
  • From Takengon, Sumatra
  • Tangerine, clove, chocolate, tobacco
Lifeboost, Dark Roast
  • Dark roast
  • From Mt. Kilambé, Nicaragua
  • Fruity with gentle body
Java Planet, Colombia Organic
  • Medium/dark roast
  • Colombia blend
  • Fruity, nutty, caramel
Out of the Grey, Peru
  • Medium/dark roast
  • From La Florida, Peru
  • Flavors of almonds, dark chocolate, molasses
Kicking Horse Coffee, Kick Ass
  • Dark roast
  • Blend from Indonesia & South America
  • Big fruit and chocolate, sweet smokiness
Death Wish Coffee
  • Dark roast
  • Blend
  • Cherries, chocolate, smokiness
Stumptown, Holler Mountain
  • Medium roast
  • Blend from Latin America & East Africa
  • Citrus, caramel, berry jam
Tiny Footprint, Signature Blend
  • Light roast
  • Blend
  • Flavors of orange, lemon, milk chocolate
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Fully Organic Coffee Brands

Whilst many brands offer some organic options within their coffee range, there are a few companies that are fully organic.

You can browse their complete range and know you’re never compromising on the environment (or on flavor) with any of these specialists.

Whilst this is by no means an exhaustive list and there are certainly other organic coffee brands out there, the following sell a number of great options for you to choose from. So you are spoiled for choice:

Three top organic coffee brands - Lifeboost, Stumptown, and Equator Coffees - on a table

1. Lifeboost Organic Coffee Beans

Positioned as one of the healthiest organic coffee brands, Lifeboost focuses on low-acid, mycotoxin-free coffee that’s easy on the stomach and good for your health. And the health of the environment too.

All of their single-origin organic coffees from Nicaragua bear the USDA seal of approval. Plus they donate a portion of their profits to Rainforest Trust and Project Alianza to protect wildlife and to support children’s education in rural areas. 

We like their core range for their easy-drinking nature, but Lifeboost’s range of naturally flavored coffees is surprisingly good too.

2. Spirit Animal

When it comes to doing things right, we are OBSESSED with Spirit Animal Coffee. I truly believe they sell the best organic specialty coffee currently available.

Each of their offerings is single-origin Honduran coffee and really shows off what makes Honduras such an exciting coffee-producing country. You can choose between a single-varietal or a blend of two Arabica coffee varieties, all of which have achieved at least 85/100 cup score from the Specialty Coffee Association.

As they work directly with small-scale farmers they are able to guarantee the growing practices. But where they truly stand out is by roasting at source to keep the money within the community. It is then air-shipped directly to you for maximum fresh deliciousness.

3. Kicking Horse

These Canadian coffee roasters have to win the prize for the best office view in the world – the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Known for more than just their views, they have a delicious range of delicious (and quirkily named) coffees that are 100% certified organic. They are audited annually by ECOCERT to ensure that none of their whole coffee beans are grown with synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers.

If that wasn’t all, they are also the largest Fairtrade coffee roasters in Canada. 

4. Jo Coffee

Amazon might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of buying specialty coffee, but that’s where you’ll find Jo. They launched in 2013 to give coffee lovers an easy way to make their purchases.

Not only delicious, they are also all Fair Trade and Organic certified.

In addition to whole beans, they also make compostable K-cups for Keurig machines – the decaf one is impressively good!

5. Death Wish Coffee

Boasting the “World’s Strongest Coffee”, you are guaranteed only fully caffeinated organic coffees here.

They are known for their distinctive strong, bold dark roast coffee flavor so they’re not for the faint-hearted. But you can get your certified Organic and Fair Trade Death Wish Coffee in whole bean, ground, or coffee pod varieties.

6. Java Planet Organic Coffee Beans

It’s in the name – all of their coffees are 100% certified organic. Whilst the packaging may be a little on the garish side, we can’t fault what’s inside the bag. Whether you shop their single-origin organic coffees or opt for one of their flavored offerings, you won’t be disappointed. 

Many of their coffees also hold other sustainable and ethical coffee labels like Rainforest Alliance and the Smithsonian Bird-Friendly certification. 

7. Brands With Many Organic Options

Many organic coffee brands don’t hold certification for every bag of coffee in their range. This is because they source from all over the world where farmers come under different challenges on a day-to-day basis and are often priced out of official certification.

But overlook them at your peril.

Some of our favorite coffee roasters have great organic coffee options within their ranges. Great examples of this are:

  • Equator Coffees who we have never had a bad bag of coffee beans from. Their core range is superb but keep checking back on them as they frequently stock low quantity micro-lot coffees that are phenomenal.
  • Stumptown Coffee Roasters – Portland-based and renowned for their high-quality specialty coffee selection
  • Volcanica Coffee – Not all of their coffees have official certification but they do have one of the most extensive ranges of organic coffee you can find. And they’re working hard to extend this.
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What ‘Organic’ Guarantees

In short, organic coffee beans are simply grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. That’s all there is to it, right?

Unfortunately, it’s a little more in-depth than that. It includes everything from how the crops are grown, to how the coffee is handled all the way to the packaging.

This is how the USDA defines organically grown coffee (and other foodstuffs):

Organic is a labeling term found on products that have been produced using cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that support the cycling of on-farm resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.


So, let’s break that down:

Organic coffee farmers must rely on natural substances (not synthetic) and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods as far as possible. For example, this could include swapping out phosphate fertilizer for chicken manure.

In order to label coffee as Organic or use the USDA Organic coffee seal in the US, it must undergo strict production, handling, and labeling standards. The standards cover a variety of things from soil quality to fertilizers and pest control. Synthetic fertilizers, certain pesticides, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering are all prohibited.

There is a time element too. All organic produce, including coffee, must be grown on soil that has had no prohibited substances used on it in the last 3 years.

Plus, the environment used for processing and packaging the coffee must also be free from all chemicals. This means, for example, that the coffee roaster must never have held non-organic coffee.

So, when you see the organic label on your coffee beans, you know it has been carefully handled all the way from the farm to your cup.

(Infographic) What is Organic Coffee? - The do's and don't of what goes in to farming organic coffee, and what needs to be avoided
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Buying Organic Coffees: What you Need to Know

If you want to truly get to grips with what it means to buy organic coffee and its implications, this is the section for you: 

Organic Coffee Labeling

There are 4 different organic labels you may see on products like coffee:

  • 100% Organic
  • Organic
  • Regenerative Organic
  • Made with Organic Ingredients
  • Specific Organic Ingredients

Confused? We’ve got you covered:

100% Organic – The simplest and most obvious of all the labels. In this case, the product must be made up of 100% organic ingredients and the label must also have the name of the certifying agent. So, it may say “100% Organic” or it might have the USDA Organic seal.

Organic – This is where it gets a bit complex: Labels that say “Organic” are allowed up to 5% of the item to be produced using substances on the “allowed” non-organic list, excluding salt and water. Again the name of the certifying agent must be present on the label and the USDA seal can be used.

Regenerative Organic – This is a relatively new label and shows additional practices over and above the standard USDA organic certification. It requires additional farming/labor practices to not only protect the soil but to ensure its regenerative, long-term health.

Made with Organic – This label rarely applies to coffee, though it is possible to see it in some coffee blends. Here, at least 70% of the ingredients must be certified organic and it must be overseen by a certified agent.

Specific Organic Ingredients – Any product that is not overseen by a certified agent can only list organic products in the ingredients list, along with the percentages of said products. This one isn’t really relevant for coffee but always worth knowing exactly what you’re buying.

Are Organic Standards Global?

Each country or region has its own organic standards and certifications. For example, China, Japan, Europe, and the UK all have their own agencies with their own rules separate from the USDA. But, whilst their rules are different, they do have some similarities: 

Generally speaking, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are not allowed. Nor can they use genetically modified crops.

To make things more complex for the coffee farmers, if they sell their organic coffee beans to multiple markets, they need to be certified organic by the various agencies. And the price for this quickly adds up. The cost and complex paperwork are often the nails in the coffin that prevent farmers from getting official certification despite only using organic farming practices.

Alternative Coffee Certification

Having organically grown and certified coffee is great. But it doesn’t ensure that your coffee is grown ethically, only that best practices are followed in terms of the use of chemicals. There are no checks on workers’ wages, protection of the rainforest, or wildlife in the area.

Luckily, that’s where a host of other certification bodies step in:

For the protection of the hard-working coffee farmers and their wider communities, organizations/ practices like Fair Trade (US), Fairtrade (international), and Direct Trade step in.

Bird-Friendly certification is a lesser-known seal of approval from the Smithsonian. As the name implies, bird habitats are protected thanks to strict shade-grown standards. It also ensures organic farming for a double tick of goodness.

Rainforest Alliance Certification steps in as the middleman between protecting both the environment and the people. Here, there are strict ecological and environmental standards to be followed, plus a commitment to the coffee farmers and their communities.

Whilst there are plenty of ethical coffee standards out there, not all of them are legally defined. So, if you want to really get to grips with the terms used on your coffee labels, head over to our Complete Guide to Ethical Coffee.

Colombian coffee farmer holding green coffee beans
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Does Organic Coffee Taste Better?

The short answer is: No, organic coffee doesn’t taste better than regular coffee.

No matter what coffee beans you choose, the flavor will be impacted by a number of elements. There’s the production method, growing conditions and region, processing, roasting, and even the packaging. 

So, despite organic coffee beans being grown under better conditions, we can’t categorically say they taste better. The reason is that being non-organic is a sliding scale rather than an absolute.

For example, a coffee farm may do everything to the highest organic standards but their coffee doesn’t have the certification. Sadly, the reason is almost always down to money like in the following scenarios: 

  1. If the coffee farmer is living hand to mouth (as is often the case), they need flexibility if something goes wrong. This means having the wiggle room to use some non-organic products if it saves their harvest. 
  2. To get organically certified, coffee farmers need to pay. And it doesn’t come cheap. So, for many, the barriers to entry are just too high
  3. Coffee is a commodity that is well sought after by worldwide consumers. But, if the extra income from selling certified organic coffee doesn’t outstrip the costs of certification, there is little benefit to the farmers. 

All this means that there are countless farms globally producing some of the absolute best organic coffee beans. But you won’t find an organic label on any of their bags of coffee. 

So, as a coffee lover, it’s important to do a little digging. Only buy from companies you trust and that have transparent supply chains. Look for organic certification but don’t dismiss the coffee offhand if it’s not there. Remember, just because the USDA Organic seal is missing doesn’t mean your coffee is full of nasty chemicals.

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Why is Organic Coffee More Expensive?

Growing coffee organically is more labor intensive than non-organic coffee farming. But since so many farms use organic practices just without the certification, you’d expect the prices to be pretty much the same, right?

Sadly not.

For many coffee farmers, the process of getting certified and then maintaining it is too expensive. 

They have to create an “organic system plan” that covers all aspects of growing coffee from tilling the soil to transporting the beans. This plan must also include how they will keep non-organic substances away from their soil, which is tricky if they are near a non-organic farm as winds can blow over trace elements.

Organic certification also isn’t a “one and done” deal. The farms are inspected annually to ensure the required standards are continuously met. All of this comes with a price tag. So the beans need to be sold at a premium to ensure wages are paid and a profit is still made.

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Can you get Organic Decaf Coffee?

If your coffee is best enjoyed minus the caffeine, there are a few different decaffeination methods used. Out of the 4 main options, both the Swiss Water Process and Carbon Dioxide can be considered organic decaf coffee processing methods as they don’t involve the use of chemicals.

Our guide to the best decaf coffees has a whole section dedicated to organic decaf coffee beans. Check it out here.

Is Organic Coffee Healthier?

On the face of it, this is a very simple question. But the reality is immensely complicated: 

Coffee can’t be split into 2 neat categories – organic and non-organic coffee. Instead, there is a sliding scale from one to the other with lots of variation along the way including farming practices and the use of pesticides.

As an overgeneralization, organic coffee is more likely to be healthier than non-organic coffee in terms of chemical usage. However, just having an Organic Certification label doesn’t automatically equal healthier coffee. In fact, many non-organic coffees will be just as chemical-free as the organic stuff. Your best bet is to buy from trusted roasters with transparent supply chains rather than relying solely on labels.

What are the Benefits of Drinking Organic Coffee?

Drinking the best-tasting, best-quality cup of coffee is the goal. And, thanks to the extra care, time, and attention that has gone into producing organic coffee, it’s a pretty good place to start. 

There are many benefits to removing chemicals from the coffee growing process:

1. It protects the soil quality, ensuring it can still grow coffee for generations to come
2. The biodiversity is not only protected but can also flourish
3. There is no toxic run-off making its way into the local water supply which improves the health of coffee farmers and their communities 
4. No chemical nasties make it into your organic coffee brew 

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Summing Up

Drinking organic coffee is great. But it isn’t the be-all and end-all, nor is it necessarily better than the non-organic alternatives.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t pay close attention to how your coffee is grown and sourced, or check for the USDA Organic label. You absolutely should: it’s a great way to ensure your coffee isn’t damaging the environment or using any nasty chemicals

But, if you have time, take a further look. Check for other coffee certifications and labels, where the beans were bought, and who profits the most. Sadly, buying organic doesn’t guarantee the farmers and workers receive fair wages or that the coffee-growing communities are supported.

Specialty coffee producers are a good place to start. Usually, premium coffee brands stock exclusively or, at least, predominantly organic coffee beans. So a quick search on their ‘about’ page should shed some light on their ethics and growing practices. 

With organic coffee becoming more and more mainstream, there is more and more choice out there too. Which is great. But it also means there is more variability between the great and the not-so-good. Luckily, all the best organic coffees listed here not only deliver on environmental protection but also on taste. After all, good coffee is what it’s all about.


Matt Woodburn-Simmonds

Matt's coffee obsession started in 2006 when working as a Barista. A tendency to turn up to work hungover kickstarted his coffee journey which quickly turned into a love affair. As he moved on to work as a Restaurant Manager and Sommelier, the obsession continued to grow. Now, his passion is helping others to enjoy better coffee at home.

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